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Dec 16, 2012 09:07 PM

Rich Table -- An Embarrassment of Riches [SF]

When I was in San Francisco for a bridge tournament for 10 days, Chowhounds were helpful in steering me toward some good options under difficult constraints: But I had several days where my meals weren't so constrained. I ate decently to very well at Anchor & Hope, Perbacco, Sentinel, Y and Z, Prospect (for brunch), Sentinel, South Sea Seafood Village, and Taqueria Pancho Villa o Los Coyotes and several other places I've momentarily forgotten.

But my favorite new restaurant of 2012 is Rich Table, where I ate three times in eight nights. One of my favorite chefs in New York, Dave Santos (who just opened Louro in the West Village) told me that I had to eat at Rich Table, and that when they worked together at Bouley in NYC, he was tremendously impressed with Evan Rich's talent. I had no idea that the place was so "hot" or that it was so difficult to get reservations.

I first went with a party of five and we started with all the "bites" and were knocked out by them. If there is one dish that typifies what I love about Rich Table, it is the brandade "bite" (actually a nice-sized portion). I've only eaten brandade prepared with salt cod, but Rich's version is made from trout and swordfish, and it typifies the elegant rusticity of the cuisine. Slathered on the house levain (fennel all week when I went -- now it seems to be sourdough), this is one of my favorite dishes of the year. Looking at today's menu, I'm astonished that so many of the best dishes we sampled are now off the menu. And these aren't necessarily seasonal items. For example, my favorite appetizer was probably the squid salad with cabbage (I believe some of the cabbage was pickled, some not) -- a sort of seafood cole slaw that was light and bracing. I only had one shot at it. Like the Lone Ranger, the squid salad was heroic, and then slithered out of town without a word, not requiring the praise it deserved. I'd be happy to talk about more dishes if anyone cares, but there has already been so much turnover in the menu, I'm not sure it'll help to praise dishes that are no longer available (although I see that the trout entree and caramel panna cotta with coffee crumble dessert that we loved is still available).

Two other times, I walked in right at opening time at 5:30. Once I sat at the bar with a friend (although we were also offered spots at one of the communal tables, andthe other time we snagged a two-top). It isn't true that it's difficult to eat at RT, if you are flexible about where you sit.

I can't emphasize the friendliness and warmth of the service at Rich Table. Far from encountering a virtual velvet rope by the FOH, we were welcomed like long-lost friends without a reservation. Once seated, the waiters were equally fantastic. They were funny, knowledgable about the food, and most unusually, seemed to have all the time in the world to talk about the food and drink.

This is the way I want to eat. In the spirit of full disclosure, I've long been fed up with so many of the elements of fine dining. Compared to this style of restaurant, gastronomic temples like Daniel or Eleven Madison Park in NY feel corny to me. The food is better at Rich Table, it's more fun to spend a couple of hours at RT, and it is much less expensive. What has a tablecloth ever done for me? Or a suit and tie?

Was there anything I didn't like about RT? Perhaps the entrees weren't quite up to the level of the "bites" and "appetizers," but this is grading on a very difficult curve. And we weren't too impressed with the red wines by the glass. On the other hand, the cocktails are great. I especially loved the "Autumn Leaves" -- a rye drink with bitter orange and black walnut.

The stereotype about San Francisco is that it is weak on the high end, but has many terrific middle-tier restaurants. The only thing middle-tier about Rich Table is the price. Evan and Sarah Rich and their staff have so much to be proud of.

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  1. This is a great writeup, dave, thanks much for taking the time. I'm happy to hear that you can walk in reasonably easily. Do you mind sharing how long you waited for a table when you went? And I'd love to hear more about the dishes you had even if they're no longer on the menu.

    Rich Table is at the top of my list for our next visit.

    7 Replies
    1. re: grayelf

      Not much drama, grayelf. We were seated immediately all three times I went. But we were there when they opened at 5:30. Two of the three days, we could have easily sat immediately at a communal table or the bar until at least 6:30. Unlike so many FOH people at popular restaurants, the folks at Rich Table seem to WANT you to get seated as soon as possible.

      Two of the best bites are simple and addictive: the Castelvetrano olives with preserved lemons and the radishes with brown butter. I know that olives and radishes w/brown butter are not favorites of many, but if you like either or both, order them before you order (and both go well with liquor). Probably the most famous single dish at RT is the sardine potato chip -- it's a great salt delivery system for sure.

      I'd say the pastas aren't quite as unusual and special as most of the other dishes. I didn't order any for myself, but sampled the tagliatelle and cannelloni that are on the menu now -- both are solid but probably not worth ordering on your first visit.

      If you want a light entree, I highly recommend the trout. lying atop one of the best spaghetti squash preparations I've tried.

      If you have a chance to order the fennel levain, order it. It's one of the best and most unusual breads I've eaten in years. It is served with house cultured butter, but I loved it with the brandade.

      I tried a couple of bites of my friend's sirloin steak. She loved it, and it was delicious, but I'd rather go with the steak tartare with fermented cabbage and pickled mustard seed.

      1. re: Dave Feldman

        Thanks for the deets, dave. Love the salt delivery system comment and the perspective on the pastas especially.

        1. re: Dave Feldman

          Interesting, I had the tasting menu the other night and was I impressed with the food. Of the appetizers/small bites I particularly liked the chicken liver mousse with puffed rice. The anchovy chips were also a good and I was surprised at how much I liked the radish dish. We actually loved the pastas and felt that they were the overall highlight of the meal. They each had a bit of kick to them and the geoduck pasta was a tasting menu only item that had a generous portion of geoduck and a full clam flavored sauce. I believe the pork bolognese is on the regular menu, I'd definitely get it again. Of the mains, we liked the trout. I thought the sirloin steak was good, though not as outstanding as the rest of the meal. The dessert of mint ice cream with chocolate cracker is another one I'd order again. It came with dollops of creamy chocolate in the shape of Hershey's kisses. Overall, the execution here is top knotch, the flavors were interesting and refined. Service was ok, professional and efficient, though not warm and friendly like a neighborhood restaurant.

          1. re: wanderlust21

            I forgot about the chicken liver mousse -- definitely one of my favorite appetizers. The geoduck pasta sounds great -- I didn't realize that the tasting menu offered dishes unavailable on the regular menu.

          2. re: Dave Feldman

            The one thing I didn't like about the pasta dishes (we had 2) was that the pasta itself was a little bit passed al dente. Did you notice this as well? Does anyone know if the pastas are made in house?

            1. re: DezzerSF

              We had the spaghetti w romesco, the pork bolognese and the geoduck pasta. I didn't notice any overly soft texture, but I also dont remember it being al dente (which I prefer). That said, it was the sauce itself and not the pasta noodles that had great flavor.

              1. re: wanderlust21

                Agreed. The ones I tasted were a little past al dente (although, in my experience, cannelloni usually).

        2. I realize it's "Z & Y" and not "Y & Z." And I also had an excellent brunch/lunch at Nopa.

          1. I thought their cocktail program was fantastic. Buffalo, a Bourbon and Branch alumnus, is doing great things here. I had 4 cocktails from the menu, all were seasonal, complex and very balanced.

            1 Reply
            1. re: DezzerSF

              That's a good point about the seasonality of the cocktails. RT doesn't burden customers with the provenance of every ingredient in the menu descriptions, but there is a note: "All of our ingredients are sourced from the best places possible -- if you'd like to know more, just ask."

            2. How did you fare at the bridge table?

              1 Reply
              1. re: Veggo

                Not bad, but not as well as at Rich Table!

              2. Went to Rich Table on Saturday night for our first visit and had a terrific meal from start to finish. We started with the porcini doughnuts; then shared crab Louis; main dishes were a pasta dish with romanesco, smoked trout and persimmon, and the cotechinio house-made sausage with fennel levain. Dessert was an unexpectedly light olive oil cake. Our server was welcoming and fun to talk with--made us feel like regulars, and also gave us spot-on wine by the glass input, both for our tastes and the menu. Have to agree with Dave that this is a real find and I will be back soon.

                1 Reply
                1. re: BAnders

                  Amazing. Not one dish you tried was on the menu a few weeks ago. Except for the bites, only about 15% of the dishes on the menu were. Glad you enjoyed it.